JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) - The father of a northeast Florida girl who slain after being abducted while shopping with her mother has arrived in Jacksonville for her funeral.
Authorities say a registered sex offender abducted Cherish Perrywinkle from a Wal-Mart on Friday night. The 8-year-old girl's body was found Saturday morning. Donald James Smith has been charged with murder and kidnapping.
"No words can describe how I feel right now," Billy Jarreau wrote in a statement Wednesday. "I am in shock and disbelief that my precious Cherish is gone. I would like to say thank you to those who have sent thoughts and prayers."
Jerreau and Cherish's mother had a long custody battle over the girl.
"I've been fighting for custody for this little girl for the past five years," Jarreau's attorney, Gerald Wilkerson, told The Florida Times-Union (http://bit.ly/10n0qlf). "For it to end this way, it's just the most helpless feeling you can ever imagine."
A viewing for Cherish will be held Thursday evening, and a funeral will be held Friday afternoon in Jacksonville. Both services are open to the public.
Authorities say Smith, 56, befriended the girl and her mother while they were shopping Friday night at a dollar story. Smith later took them to a Wal-Mart, where he offered to buy them clothes and hamburgers, but instead of buying the snacks, Smith allegedly walked out of the store with the girl.
Cherish's body was found in a wooded area near a church.
The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office is asking the public to be on the lookout for a beat-up, blue, double stroller that Cherish's mother told investigators she put in Smith's van at the dollar store.
The stroller was not in the van when police arrested Smith on Interstate 95 on Saturday. Authorities say the stroller is evidence in the case and anyone who sees it should report its whereabouts.
Information from: The (Jacksonville) Florida Times-Union, http://www.jacksonville.com
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